Portfolio manager and resident big thinker Alan Wilson shares some of the areas of innovation with investment potential that he sees on the horizon.
34 years of investment experience
Matt Miller: You are viewed — I think with good reason — as a broader, big-picture, big-thinker kind of investor. Any glimpses you'd share into your current thinking? Are there different angles of vision you're bringing to how you're looking at opportunities or challenges in the period ahead?
Alan Wilson: Well, thanks for the tough setup. So one of the great things about Capital [Group] is that it allows you to focus on whatever strikes your fancy from an investment perspective. And so I can go off and, at any given time, I have multiple projects I'm kind of noodling on.
Right now, a couple that I'm trying to pay attention to are, one, what I would call changes in credentialing. So much of the way we operate as human beings is that if I don't know you or have a relationship with you, I look for something that gives me some indicator of how you behave. Historically, one of the things people have looked to are educational markers, as a credential that's necessary. Typically, when I get into transportation that I don't know — in the old days, taxis — the credential was it was painted yellow, and I'd get in and see a picture of the person and there was some licensure that went into that.
Matt Miller: Right. Right.
Alan Wilson: Right? We're now moving to a world where you're getting a lot more person-to-person transactions, right? People call it the gig economy, etc. And a lot of the credentialing is provided by the platform provider themselves, right? The sort of four-star driver versus a five-star, etc. That creates some fascinating opportunities for people not only to stitch those credentials together … like, for example, I'm fascinated by this Chinese experiment to create a social score for people, right? To kind of say, “What type of bank credit might you be based on how good of an Airbnb host you are?” Right? I think a lot of that going forward is going to create a lot of potential opportunity, a lot of disruption in the way things work. And so I'm very [much] on the lookout right now for people that are providing the new-era credential.
Matt Miller: Interesting. And how that translates into companies that would be trying to take advantage of those newer modes.
Alan Wilson: Exactly. Exactly. I think another place would be … I talked a second ago about universities, right? They were sort of the major credential provider. Increasingly, what companies are looking for are skill sets, right? And so, “I don't care so much that, Alan, you went to MIT. The question is, can you do what I need you to do?” And there are a few institutions now that are starting to provide very specific credentials that really give you an indicator of that. I have been looking at a couple of for-profit educational institutions, particularly that are providing the platforms for graduate-level credentials that at least fit well with the world that I see going forward. So that's one of these things that I'm spending some time playing with right now.
Matt Miller: Now sometimes these trends manifest themselves in kind of super-products or big things. So if the iPhone was the big thing of the past decade, is there some next big thing of the future that is on your screen?
Alan Wilson: So this is not an original thing. But forever, man has had this blockade, which is if you wanted to use the highest level of our tools, you typically had to go through this QWERTY keyboard thing, right? If you wanted to get information out that you had to go through this type- … and it is the most … it's a horrific interface. Really, right? It was, by design, built to sort of slow you down, right? I mean, it is — I'm personally not a very good typist, so it is hard for me to type and think simultaneously. I am fascinated that we're at the point where our most natural interface, which is what we're doing right now — talking, communicating, speaking — is now becoming sufficient to access a lot of the tools of the day.
Matt Miller: Right.
Alan Wilson: And I think the combination of voice understanding and accessing those tools is going to be incredibly liberating. Again, how that manifests itself stock-wise, I'm not sure. But I think we will look back and if you said, “If iPhone was this …,” I think the voice interface is going to be the next one.
Matt Miller: Makes sense.